Ed Stetzer: “there is…an evangelical reckoning to be had”

Ed Stetzer, the director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, has some important things to say about yesterday’s insurrection. Here is a taste of his post at Christianity Today:

The way Trump has conducted himself cost Republicans the Senate this week. When you fill people’s minds with falsities of election fraud it, not so shockingly, depresses the vote.

In the coming months, I believe many more will see these things more clearly, as we sort through the damage done.

More than the political situation, I fear an enduring damage to our witness as (white) evangelicals have been so closely aligned with this president.

There’s an American reckoning coming…

But there is also an evangelical reckoning to be had.

For now, we know three things.

Character matters.

Elections have consequences.

And, so do conspiracy theories.

Read the entire piece here.

Mark Galli’s journey to Catholicism

In September we did a post on Mark Galli‘s conversion to Catholicism. Read it here.

Over at Denver Catholic, Aaron Lambert sheds a bit more light on the faith journey of the former editor of Christianity Today. Here is a taste:

In some sense, Mark Galli was almost destined to be Catholic; God just brought him there in a very roundabout and gradual way.

Baptized Catholic as a boy at the instigation of his grandmother, Galli remembers his first confession. He received First Communion as well, though he has no memory of it (“I have pictures of it,” Galli said.) And on Sept. 13, at the age of 68, Galli was confirmed as the newest member of the Catholic Church at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet, Illinois. 

Though only eleven days a Catholic when the Denver Catholic interviewed him, Galli brings a wealth of knowledge and a lifetime of faith to the Church with him. 

A lifelong Christian, Galli was a member of Presbyterian and Anglican churches in the past and served as a pastor for 10 years in the former. Galli also recently retired from an illustrious 30-year career as a Christian journalist and writer. He’s authored several books and still writes regularly for his blog, The Galli Report. Among the various publications he’s worked for is Christianity Today, which he served as editor-in-chief of for seven years.

“The first magazine I worked for was Leadership, which is a magazine for pastors,” Galli told the Denver Catholic. “And I knew that we had some Catholic priests read us because it was basically principles on how to pastor a congregation. The next magazine I worked for was Christian History. It was a magazine that covered all of Christian history.”

Though the seeds for his conversion were technically (even spiritually) already planted as a young boy when receiving the sacraments, those seeds slowly began to be sowed during Galli’s stint with Christian History. In 1994, he was editing an issue devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and remembers being taken aback by this saint and his resolute faith.

Read the rest here.

Preliminary numbers: between 76% and 78% of white evangelical voters voted for Trump

The Associated Press says 78%. The National Election Pool says 76%.

Whether it’s 76%, 78%, or 81%, the number is too large. I will probably have more to say about this in the coming days.

Here is Christianity Today:

ho will be the president of the United States for the next four years? Right now, we don’t know. Joe Biden currently holds 238 electoral votes to President Trump’s 213. But, as of Wednesday afternoon, ballots are still being counted in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia and the final decision may take days to decide. Among white evangelical and born-again Christians, Trump earned 78 percent of the vote, according to the first 110,000 voters surveyed by the Associated Press for its VoteCast poll. Preliminary estimates from the National Election Pool put it a little lower, at 76 percent.

Listen to this podcast or read this piece for more information.

When the politics editor of *The Christian Post* refused to let the website become a court evangelical mouthpiece he had no choice but to resign

In December 29, 2019 Napp Nazworth, the politics editor of The Christian Post, resigned after The Post denounced Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Now Napp Nazworth is telling his story in a long form piece at Arc Digital.

Nazworth shows how court evangelicals tried to use The Christian Post as a propaganda tool for Donald Trump. But it also reveals how these evangelical leaders crave public attention, promote themselves through public relations firms, and seek political power.

Here are some highlights:

On court evangelical Richard Land, the Executive Editor of The Christian Post:

Executive Editor Richard Land led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission when CP first hired him, then later became president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. He was often relied upon for his theological insights and his deep knowledge of Washington politics and the SBC.

It was wise of CP to bring Grano and Land on board. All the upper management were young, in their 20s and 30s, which meant they needed people with experience they could turn to for advice.

Land is nothing like Trump on issues of race and immigration. He was one of the primary figures leading the SBC to grapple with its racist past. The ERLC also joined the pro-immigration Evangelical Immigration Table under his leadership.

Land is also nothing like his public image. He has a great sense of humor. Since his public interviews discuss serious topics, those who don’t know him don’t get to see this other side. If the multiverse is real, there’s another Richard Land somewhere doing stand-up right now. Sharp-witted, his humor often worked on many levels. One of my favorites was when he joked that Matt Drudge, founder of The Drudge Report, is what he would be like if he had never become a Christian.

On court evangelical Robert Jeffress:

Jeffress is a celebrity hound. It wasn’t uncommon for Jeffress to personally email me or our reporters to show us one of his many TV interviews in the hopes we would report on it. We often obliged. Land liked to tell a joke he heard in Southern Baptist circles that the most dangerous place in Texas to stand is between Jeffress and a television camera.

There is also a really interesting section on how court evangelicals Johnnie Moore and Paula White tried to manipulate The Christian Post to publish a White puff piece in the hopes that Donald Trump would read it.

And this:

While most of my time at CP I could write on the topics I wanted, I recall two separate occasions when I was told I couldn’t criticize prominent evangelical leaders Franklin Graham and Eric Metaxas. This made sense from a business perspective. Graham and Metaxas each have a huge and influential media presence and their audiences closely overlap with CP’s audience. All they would need to do is tell their followers to not read CP and CP would take a big financial hit. This is why it was easy at CP to be sharply critical of liberal leaders — their audiences didn’t overlap with ours, but criticizing prominent conservatives was problematic.

And more on Johnnie Moore, the self-proclaimed “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer”:

In 2017, Johnnie Moore was being mentioned as a candidate for the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He asked CP for help in advertising his credentials for the position, while also claiming he didn’t want the position. It was an odd email. If he didn’t want the position, why should we publish articles promoting him for the position? We published two articles after Johnnie Moore’s request, “Meet the 3 Leading Candidates for Trump Religious Freedom Post,” and an op-ed by Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and also a CP advisor, titled, “President Trump Should Appoint Johnnie Moore to Top Religious Freedom Post.” Trump selected Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback for the position.

We heard from Johnnie Moore often by email and occasionally on an editors’ chat. While he was supposed to provide advice to CP, when Johnnie Moore spoke, we couldn’t tell if he was really thinking about the best interests of CP or the interests his clients and Trump. This problem was understood and discussed by both editors and reporters. We appreciated that he was well connected and sometimes helped us get interviews with his clients. But sometimes he would ignore our emails and requests for weeks, then suddenly we would hear from him again when we published a story he didn’t like. Those stories were about his clients or Trump. He wanted to help us, but only to the extent we could help his clients. When it came to Trump, he expected us to behave like state media. Kwon became increasingly frustrated with this side of Johnnie Moore.

In one editor chat, we asked Johnnie Moore for help in getting interviews with Trump administration officials. He remarked that our previous “Donald Trump is a Scam” editorial was a stumbling block. Was he fishing for a quid-pro-quo? Positive coverage in exchange for an interview? I’m still not sure. After that call, I asked Grano if Johnnie Moore was speaking for the administration or himself. Grano answered that he wasn’t sure.

CP editors all understood then that our relationship with Johnnie Moore had to be kept at arm’s length. He was on Team Trump, and would always want us to spin the news in his team’s favor.

Read the entire piece here.

More on the Ravi Zacharias day spa scandal

Get up to speed here.

In this podcast interview, Christianity Today reporter Daniel Silliman explains how he investigated this story.

Several evangelicals who followed Ravi Zacharias were upset with me today for blogging about this story. Here is how the Christianity Today editors are responding to similar criticism.

Emily Belz of World Magazine has done her own reporting and has uncovered new details. Here is a taste of her piece:

WORLD spoke to an additional source, longtime spa manager Anna Adesanya, who worked at Jivan Wellness from 2009 until ownership changed in 2012. Adesanya told me Zacharias would come in regularly, maybe once a month. She remembered an incident around 2009 in which a massage therapist came to her and said she was uncomfortable treating Zacharias anymore because he had asked her for “more than a massage.” 

Adesanya, who was unfamiliar with Zacharias’ apologetics ministry, said she took the information to Zacharias’ spa business partner, Anurag Sharma, and asked that they talk to Zacharias. She said the two met him at his office at RZIM, where Zacharias showed them his back X-rays as a way of explaining his need for therapy. Zacharias had spoken publicly about his chronic back problems from an injury decades earlier. 

“He did not admit it—he became defensive,” said Adesanya. “He said, ‘Who is this girl, what is she trying to do to me?’” 

After the meeting, Adesanya said, Sharma fired the therapist who had complained. Zacharias continued coming for regular spa appointments. (Sharma did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Adesanya said no other therapists complained to her about Zacharias during her tenure. But she said Zacharias only went to certain therapists and often brought his own massage therapist, an Indian woman, and they would occupy one of the rooms for therapy sessions. “I would often have to wonder, because they would be in that room for hours. At most you’re going to have a therapy session that’s going to last an hour and half , maybe two hours top,” Adesanya said. “It would exceed two hours, if not three. … But it was never anything that was spoken of.”

Read the rest here.

Former *Christianity Today* editor Mark Galli will convert to Catholicism

I did not see this coming.

Here is Yonat Shimron at Religion News Service:

On Sunday (Sept. 13), Mark Galli will stand before Bishop Richard Pates in the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet, Illinois, to hear these words:

“Francis, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Pates will then dab Galli’s forehead with anointing oil (using a cotton ball instead of his thumb due to COVID-19).  And with that, Galli — who has chosen his confirmation name after St. Francis of Assisi— will become a Roman Catholic.

Galli’s journey to Catholicism is notable, in part because of the nation’s political climate.  A former Presbyterian pastor, Galli spent seven years as editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, the premier publication for evangelicals whose founder was the legendary evangelist Billy Graham. 

But for a few days last December, Galli was perhaps the most well-known evangelical in the country – after penning an editorial calling for Donald Trump’s impeachment and removal from office and arguing he was “profoundly immoral.”

It went viral, earning a rebuke from Trump on Twitter, and bringing Galli — who retired from the magazine in January — a tsunami of publicity. Some of his fellow evangelicals praised the editorial as courageous, given their movement’s overwhelming support for the president. 

Read the rest here.

J.I. Packer: 1926-2020

Packer

Evangelical theologian J.I. Packer has died. He was 93.

Here is a taste of Leland Ryken’s obituary at Christianity Today:

When Christianity Today conducted a survey to determine the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, Packer’s book Knowing God came in fifth. His fame and influence were not something that he set out to accomplish. He steadfastly refused to cultivate a following. Instead, he made his mark with his typewriter (which he used to compose his articles and books throughout his life).

J. I. Packer filled so many roles that we can accurately think of him as having had multiple careers. He earned his livelihood by teaching and was known to those who were his students as a professor. But the world at large knows Packer as an author and speaker.

Packer’s fame as a speaker rivaled his stature as an author. In both spheres, his generosity was unsurpassed. No audience or venue was too small to elicit Packer’s best effort. His publishing career was a case study in accepting virtually every request that was made of him. His signature book, Knowing God, (which has sold a million and a half copies) began as a series of bimonthly articles requested by the editor of a small evangelical magazine. His first book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, began as a talk to a group of students (the publisher requested a pamphlet but Packer wrote a book). Perhaps no one in history has written more endorsements and prefaces to the books of others than Packer did.

In both his publishing and speaking, Packer was famous as a Puritan scholar, but he was also a dedicated churchman who said that his teaching was primarily aimed at the education of future ministers, and he spent countless hours serving on church committees. For a quarter of a century, Packer’s involvement with Christianity Today gave him a platform as an essayist who frequently turned to topics of cultural critique. Packer had a career as a controversialist (by necessity rather than choice, he confided to me). Despite this range, Packer consistently self-identified as a theologian, which we can therefore regard as his primary vocation.

When we speak of the legacy left by a deceased person, we think misleadingly in terms of a speculative posthumous legacy that is impossible to predict. J. I. Packer’s primary legacy is the influence he held over events in Christendom and over people’s lives during his lifetime. That is his indisputable legacy, and I will highlight what I believe to be the most important ways in which Packer affected the direction of Christianity during his life.

Read the entire piece here.

New Editor, Old Debate

183a7-wheatonAbout fifteen years ago I encouraged a student of mine at Messiah College to pursue an M.A. in American Church History at Wheaton College.  After his first semester was complete we exchanged a few e-mails.  He commented on how Wheaton was very different from Messiah.  I asked him to give me a few examples how these two Christian colleges were different.  He responded by saying that the faculty and students at Wheaton were “obsessed” with defining the word “evangelical.”

I thought about this student today when I read Christianity Today‘s editorial, “What Does ‘Evangelical’ Mean?”  This is certainly a timely topic in the age of Trump, the court evangelicals, and the 81%.  It is also a debate that gets rehashed every 5-10 years or so.

It looks like Daniel Harrell, the new editor at Christianity Today, wants to start off his tenure by revisiting this time-honored conversation.  Check out the editorial here.  It includes essays by evangelical insiders Mark Galli, Bruce Hindmarsh, Leith Anderson, Ed Stetzer, Ron Sider, Brandon Washington, Craig Keener, Richard Mouw, and Ted Olson.

Scot McKnight’s *Jesus Creed* Moves to *Christianity Today*

McKnight

I did not see any formal announcement about this, but I was glad to learn that McKnight’s very popular blog has moved to Christianity Today.  Here is a taste of his recent post, “Christianity Tomorrow“:

At no time in my life have I seen the church more engaged in politics and more absorbed by a political story. I’m not referring here simply to Republican vs. Democrat or Conservative vs. Progressive. Rather, I mean the belief that what matters most is what happens in D.C. and if we get the right candidate elected America can be saved. Blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter posts and websites are tied together and double-knotted with this political narrative. It is so pervasive many don’t even know it’s running and ruining our public and private lives. Ask them about a candidate and their blood pressure pops or their mouth spews or their mind runs into the wall of exasperation…

Our political narrative is not the Bible’s narrative, but human beings are inescapably storytellers, and it is their stories that make sense of life for them. Is there an alternative? Yes, but it is dying and only pastors can resurrect the alternative.

Read the entire post here.

What story is forming the evangelical church today?  Is it the story of Jesus and the Gospels?  Or is it the story emanating from Fox News and our social media silos?  Here is a taste of my recent piece at USA Today:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson) and the hosts of “Fox and Friends.”

Read Jesus Creed here.

A Southern Evangelical Businessman Breaks With Trump

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blows a kiss to supporters following a campaign rally in Akron

Fred Rand is an evangelical Christian and Memphis business man.  He described his background in a recent piece at the Jackson (MS) Free Press:

I cut my teeth as a College Republican working for Ronald Reagan in 1980. I have never in my life cast a ballot for a Democrat candidate in almost 40 years as a registered Republican.

I am also a committed Evangelical Christian who grew up in Mississippi as a devoted follower of the Rev. Billy Graham and am now a follower of Andy Stanley. I joined my wife at North Point Church in Atlanta when we first married and briefly attended his Buckhead Church before moving to Charlotte, N.C., when our first grandson was born. We joined Andy’s wonderful startup church called Ridge, where our daughter was on full-time staff and her husband a volunteer youth counselor. Our daughter has recently completed (another) degree in Christian counseling at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary here and is currently in private practice, but still very active in our church….

I first heard Rev. Graham speak at an unofficial Reagan event in 1980. I was honored to be among a number of young people he spoke to briefly afterward. Rev. Graham warned us not to be seduced by the lights and excitement of politics. All fame is fleeing. And all men are human and will disappoint you, as Richard Nixon disappointed him. He urged us to put our trust first in God. He will never disappoint you. He will never turn His back on you. He will always love you. And we must honor that love by choosing Him, putting Him first and not turning our backs on Him.

I was a huge fan of the inspirational movie “Brian’s Song” in junior high. But it was my hero Gayle Sayer’s book “I am Third” that changed my life. I adopted his beliefs outlined in the book and have tried to live a life based on this guiding principle. God is first. My friends and family are second. And I am third. Rev. Graham’s off-the-cuff remarks that night echoed that same philosophy, and I saw the truth in his words to us.

That night had a profound effect on my life. I read an article about Rev. Graham in Parade Magazine less than a year later that I kept framed on my wall for 30 years that was 100% consistent with his testimony to us Young Republicans that night.

“I told (Jerry Falwell) to preach the Gospel,” Rev. Graham said in the Parade article. “That’s our calling. I want to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the freedom of religion in America. I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. Liberals organized in the ’60s, and conservatives certainly have a right to organize in the ’80s, but it would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

That has been my political lodestone ever since.

In his Jackson Free Press piece, Rand defends Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today and says that “Donald Trump fits the scriptural definition of a fool.”

Read it all here.

My Piece Today at *USA TODAY* on the Evangelicals for Trump Rally

Miami Trump

Here is a taste of “‘Evangelicals for Trump’ was an awful display by supposed citizens of the Kingdom of God“:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David, and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson), and the hosts of Fox and Friends.

Read the entire piece at *USA TODAY*.

Darryl Hart on Boston’s Park Street Church, Evangelicalism, and the “Ghost of Harold John Ockenga”

Park StreetHarold John Ockenga was the pastor of Boston’s Park Street Church from 1936 to 1969.

He was one of the early leaders of the neo-evangelical movement in the 1940s and 1950s.  We normally associated the rise of neo-evangelicalism with people such Ockenga, Billy Graham, Nelson Bell, and Carl F.H. Henry and institutions such as Fuller Theological Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Christianity Today.

Ockenga was one of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals and served as its president from 1942-1944.  He was the president of both Fuller and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He was the chairman of the board of Christianity Today during its first twenty-five years of publication.

As some of you know, the National Association of Evangelicals recently named a new president.  His name is Walter Kim and  he served as a minister of Park Street Church for fifteen years.

Christianity Today recently named a new editor.  His name is Daniel Harrell and he served as a “preaching minister” at Park Street Church.

Here is Hart as his blog:

Here are the balls to keep an eye on: Boston’s Park Street Church, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today.

That means Harrell is following a trail blazed by Harold John Ockenga. Who, you might ask? Well, he was the rare winner of evangelicalism’s Triple Crown — presiding over Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Fuller Seminary. He was also pastor of Park Street Church. 

And this:

Granted, Kim only has two direct links to Ockenga — Park Street and the National Association of Evangelicals — compared to Harrell’s four. Whether these institutions function more as gatekeepers or networks is debatable. But if you want to know where to look for leadership within those who want to be evangelicalism’s leaders, look to Boston while gesturing to Pasadena, California.

It looks like a certain wing of evangelical Christianity in America still runs through the Boston Common.  I wonder what this means for my former pastor at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

*Christianity Today* Announces Its New Editor-in-Chief

harrell

His name is Daniel Harrell.

Here is his bio:

As of January, 2020, Daniel M. Harrell is Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today. Formerly, he served ten years as Senior Minister of Colonial Church, Edina, Minnesota, and for 23 years before that as preaching minister at Park Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts. Daniel holds a BA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Psychology and Religion), an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his PhD from Boston College (Developmental & Educational Psychology).

He has taught at Gordon-Conwell, Fuller and Bethel seminaries, as well as at Boston University and Harvard University. He served for many years on the Community Ethics Committee of the Harvard University Hospitals and on the Advisory Council of Biologos.

Daniel has written for Christianity Today and The Christian Century, appeared on PBS and regularly blogged for Cultivare at patheos.com. He is widowed (Dawn, 2019) and lives with his lovely daughter in Minneapolis and will be moving to Chicagoland.

Learn more about him here.

The Dangers of the Court

COurt Evangelicals

Here is a taste of my recent piece at Religion News Service: “Courtiers and kings, evangelicals, prophets, and Trump“:

(RNS) — Last Friday (Jan. 3), nearly every major conservative evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump gathered at the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami for the kickoff to the “Evangelicals for Trump” campaign.

If Mark Galli’s recent editorial in Christianity Today taught us anything, it is that American evangelicalism is a diverse group. Evangelicals find unity in their commitment to the redemptive work and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible and the necessity of sharing their faith with others. They do not always share the same political convictions.

When Galli criticized Trump for his “grossly immoral character” and urged his fellow evangelicals to consider how their blind support of Trump is hurting the witness of the church, pro-Trump evangelical leaders pushed back. In an open letter to Christianity Today, they said that, despite his many flaws, the president has delivered for evangelicals on matters related to abortion, religious liberty and supporting Israel. Last weekend’s rally in Miami was a continuation of this pushback.

As has been noted elsewhere, these evangelical flatterers of Trump are not unlike the court clergy of late medieval and Renaissance-era Europe. In his book “The Origins of Courtliness,” historian C. Stephen Jaeger retells a story once told by the 11th-century church reformer Petrus Damiani about St. Severin, once archbishop of Cologne, whose sole offense — punished by leaving him to wander the Earth  — was that as a cleric at the king’s court, he took so keen an interest in the affairs of the state that he neglected chanting the liturgy at the prescribed hours. 

The tale sheds light on a common problem for clergymen with access to political power: The king’s court can be a dangerous place, even for the most devout. Courtiers have one goal: to gain access to and win the favor of the monarch. Such access brings privilege and power and an opportunity to influence the king on important matters — if, of course, the king is willing to listen. 

In his well-known guide to court life, 16th-century Italian courtier Baldesar Castiglione described the court as an “inherently immoral” place, a worldly venue “awash with dishonest, greedy, and highly competitive men.” One historian has described courtiers of the time as “opportunistic social ornaments”; another described them as “chameleons.”

The skills needed to thrive in the court, in short, are different from the virtues needed to lead a healthy Christian life or exercise spiritual leadership in the church. Most medieval courts had their share of clergy, bishops and other spiritual counselors, and historians agree that their behavior was indistinguishable from that of secular courtiers, whom Damiani described elsewhere as “ruthless, fawning flatterers” in a “theater of intrigue and villainy.”

Sylvius Piccolomini, the 15th-century Renaissance humanist who would eventually become Pope Pius II, was a strong opponent of court clergy. It was very difficult, he said, for the Christian courtier to “rein in ambition, suppress avarice, tame envy, strife, wrath, and cut off vice, while standing in the midst of these (very) things.”

In the United States we don’t have kings, princes or courts, but we do have our own version of religious courtiers, who boast of, in Southern Baptist theologian Richard Land’s gleeful description, “unprecedented access” to the Oval Office.

Read the rest here.

The Many Problems With Eric Metaxas’s “Christian Case for Trump”

Metaxas

Eric Metaxas has once again turned to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal in defense of Donald Trump.  (Some of you may recall his October 12, 2016 op-ed in which he said “God will not hold us guiltless” if we vote for anyone but Trump).

Metaxas writes:

The [Christianity Today] article cleared its throat—and conscience—by declaring “unambiguous” the “facts” of the president’s guilt. Having thus defenestrated objectivity, the editorial cited his behavior in general as “profoundly immoral,” his character as “grossly” so.

But these subjective pronouncements promote a perversion of Christian doctrine, which holds that all are depraved and equally in need of God’s grace. For Christianity Today to advance this misunderstanding is shocking. It isn’t what one does that makes one a Christian, but faith in what Jesus has done.

Defenestrated?  Only elites use this word. 🙂

Let’s remember that Mark Galli’s piece in Christianity Today is an editorial.  Of course he “defenstrated objectivity.” That is the point.  Editorials are supposed to offer an informed opinion.

A couple of more thoughts here:

  1. How is the practice of calling out Trump’s immorality a “perversion of Christian doctrine?” The Bible is filled with prophets calling out sin. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas’s favorite historical character, called out sin. So did William Wilberforce, the subject of another Metaxas book.  What about John the Baptist? Or Jesus?  Metaxas’s remarks that the church is not responsible for calling out the sins of a leader is absolutely absurd.  I am surprised Metaxas did not cite Romans 13 like Jeff Sessions did in the summer of 2018 or the American loyalists did in 1776 or the Southern slaveowners did in the 1850s.  But I now understand that this is what court evangelicals do.  They claim that their political opposition has somehow perverted true Christian doctrine.  This is part of their strategy for defending God’s chosen one–Donald Trump.
  2. Metaxas believes that Christianity Today, in speaking prophetically against the corruption of the Trump presidency, is failing to acknowledge that Donald Trump is “depraved” and in need of “grace.” This, Metaxas argues, is a perversion of Christian doctrine.  But doesn’t “Christian doctrine” also require a person to repent of his sins as a prerequisite of receiving God’s grace?  Isn’t repentance an essential part of the Christian morphology of conversion?  I don’t know Trump’s heart, but I have yet to hear him ask for forgiveness for any of his sins.  In the end, I agree with Metaxas on this point: Trump is “depraved” and “in need of God’s grace.” So was almost every tyrant in world history.  What if Metaxas applied the same logic to Dietrich Bonhoeffer? He would have to argue that the great German theologian was wrong to criticize Hitler for his immorality because Hitler was “depraved” and in “need of God’s grace.” Was Bonhoeffer and his confessing church perverting Christian doctrine?

Metaxas continues:

The reason for the editorial is that evangelicals pronounced Bill Clinton unfit for office because of his moral failings. Thus, claim Mr. Trump’s detractors, evangelicals are hypocrites who’ve sold their souls for political power unless they issue a withering philippic against Mr. Trump. Christianity Today’s long-faced essay is meant to be that dressing-down, triggered by the “facts” of the impeachment.

But does the Clinton “character” comparison make sense? Aren’t the political realities different two decades later? The triangulating practicality and moderation of the Democrats under Mr. Clinton have been trampled beyond recognition by something untethered and wild, like horses racing to Venezuela.

In the 1990s some Democrats were antiabortion. Neither party could exclusively claim the high ground on this deepest of moral issues. Mr. Clinton spoke of making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” No longer. Despite ultrasounds and 4-D imaging, Democrats endorse abortion with near unanimity, often beyond viability and until birth.  If slavery was rightly considered wicked—and both a moral and political issue—how can this macabre practice be anything else? How can Christians pretend this isn’t the principal moral issue of our time, as slavery was in 1860? Can’t these issues of historic significance outweigh whatever the president’s moral failings might be?

Thoughts:

  1. I want to make a historical point here. Indeed, Clinton wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare” and pro-life Democrats were indeed easier to find in the 1990s.  But Clinton also refused to allow pro-life Democrats to speak at the 1992 Democratic convention. Most Pennsylvanians know that Governor Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, was denied a speaking slot. Again, times have changed on this front.  There are fewer people like Bill Clinton and Bob Casey today.  But let’s not pretend that “neither party could exclusively claim the high ground” on abortion in the 1990s. Democrats were largely pro-choice. Republicans were largely pro-life.  This distinction was not lost on any of the members of the Christian Right alive at the time.  If Metaxas were writing in 1992 he would have been screaming bloody murder upon learning that Casey was denied a speaking slot.  Now, in 2020, it is convenient for Metaxas to make the historical claim that there were no significant divisions over abortion in the 1990s.
  2. Another historical point. Metaxas says that we cannot compare the Trump and Clinton impeachments because “the political realities” are “different two decades later.” But if we buy Metaxas historical claim that “political realities” change over time, then what should we make of his comparison between abortion and slavery?  Aren’t “the political realities different” sixteen decades years later? Slavery was indeed a moral problem in the 19th century.  Abortion is indeed a moral problem today.  But the comparison also has its limits.
  3. Metaxas will be happy to hear that I believe abortion is a principal moral issue of our time. We must continue to find ways of reducing this practice.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.

More Metaxas:

The pejorative du jour is to call evangelicals “transactional,” as though buying a loaf of bread and not simply praying for one were somehow faithless. But what is sneeringly called “transactional” is representational government, in which patriotic citizens vote, deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country. Isn’t it conceivable that faithful Christians think Mr. Trump is the best choice?

Two thoughts:

  1. Let’s again remember that “patriotic citizens” also voted in the 2018 election. They elected Democrats to the House of Representatives.  When the people voted in 2018 they were, to use Metaxas’s words, “deputizing others to act on their behalf for the good of the country.”  Isn’t it “conceivable” that the American people’s vote in 2018 suggested that they were not happy with Trump?
  2. Metaxas concludes that “faithful Christians” made the correct moral choice when they chose Trump.  But it is also possible that they did not. “Faithful” evangelical Christians in the past have supported all kinds of things, including slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation.  I chronicled this history in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Were the majority of Christians in the South morally correct when they preserve slavery morally correct?  Were the “faithful Christians” who supported slavery or Jim Crow laws making “the best choice?”  My intention here is not to compare evangelical Trump voters to slaveholders, but to show that just because most Christians vote a certain way does not necessarily mean that their collective voice represents the highest ethical norms.  For example, if I said that the “majority of faithful Democrats in the House want Trump impeached,” I would imagine Metaxas would claim that just because the majority of the House wants Trump impeached does not necessarily mean that the majority of the House is correct in such a decision.

Metaxas continues:

Can those troubled by Mr. Trump not at least imagine that removing him could lead to something even worse? Can the Democratic metamorphosis into an openly antiborder, socialist movement responsibly be ignored?

Here Metaxas assumes that all Democrats support socialism and open borders.  This is not true.  Metaxas is engaged here in Fearmongering 101.  He implies that if you do not vote for Donald Trump the country is going to be overrun by socialists and immigrants. Metaxas knows that most white evangelicals do not make a distinction between democratic socialism and Soviet-style communism.  He also knows that many white evangelicals worry that immigrants represent a continued threat to a white Christian America that is already in rapid decline.

Metaxas goes on:

Christians especially blanch to see religious liberty—once thought settled under Mr. Clinton with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—suddenly under serious attack. Christians are staggered to see good souls who stand by millennia-old religious convictions portrayed as deplorable bigots. Democrats—and many Republicans, too—simply look away, seemingly resigned to a culturally Marxist future in which they too may at any minute be rent asunder by woke mobs.

Thoughts:

  1. I partially agree with Metaxas. There are a lot of serious concerns about religious liberty for Christian institutions. This is why I support Fairness for All and find myself in agreement with Washington University law professor John Inazu’s (and Tim Keller‘s) idea of “confident pluralism.” But let’s not pretend that Donald Trump has a perfect record on religious liberty.  See, for example, Steven Waldman’s recent piece at the conservative website The Bulwark or Melissa Rogers’s piece at Religion News Service.
  2. This paragraph is filled with dog-whistles and more fear-mongering.  Metaxas’s use of words like “bigots,” “Marxist,” and “woke mobs” are meant to scare evangelicals.  Metaxas, like many evangelicals, see Trump as a strongman. The Donald will protect him and all evangelicals from the Marxists and the woke mobs who will soon be arriving at their doorsteps.

Metaxas continues:

Given this new reality, is it any wonder Mr. Trump’s bellicosity often draws cheers?  Or that the appointment of originalist judges has become so urgent that some people are willing to countenance a chief executive who tweets like a WWE figure?

The cheers that Trump received last Friday during the recent Evangelicals for Trump rally (Metaxas was present) at an evangelical megachurch in Miami were deeply troubling. Here is my take on it.  As for the Christian Right’s false belief that the appointment of federal justices will end, or even reduce, abortions in America, see my argument in Believe Me.

Finally, the bio attached to the op-ed says, “Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty.” I wrote a series of posts on this historically problematic book here and another review here.

You can read the entire Metaxas Wall Street Journal op-ed here, but you will need a subscription in order to do it.

Richard Mouw Defends the *Christianity Today* Editorial

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Richard Mouw is the former president of evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion & Politics: “The Prophetic Witness of the Christianity Today Editorial“:

At the risk of losing subscribers and harming their publication—which was attacked by the president himself on Twitter—Christianity Today delivered an important message. The prophetic editorial has been the occasion for renewed charges that Trump’s evangelical supporters have allowed political concerns to override concerns about presidential character. The president’s supporters do not dispute claims that he has said and done some highly offensive things. Instead, they tell us that we are obliged as citizens to support leaders who promote what we consider to be crucial political goals. And in this, they tell us, President Trump—whatever else we might say about him—has shown himself to be on our side. Christianity Today had a response to this as well: “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this … Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.”

Read the entire piece here.

I also appreciate Mouw’s blurb for Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Mouw

 

Christianity Today’s Former Editor Mark Galli Debates Court Evangelical Richard Land on Boston Public Radio

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The conversation occurred on WBUR-Boston.  Listen here.

Some of you may recall that Richard Land was behind the editorial that led to the resignation of its political editor Napp Nazworth.

A few takeaways:

  • Galli says he had been planning the Christianity Today editorial for “five or ten minutes” before he wrote it.
  • Galli has a history of trying to get evangelicals on the Left and Right to talk to one another. But this editorial was different. He said “we crossed the rubicon.”  He needed to speak out against Trump
  • Galli responds to his evangelical critics: “They pass this off, when they do respond … many pass it off, and say, ‘Well, he’s fighting for the causes we care about. And if he has a few rough edges, we can live with that.’ And they don’t seem to recognize that a man who calls his political enemies crazy, and lying, and disgraced, and losers, and crooked, and phony and fake — and does this day in and day out, often many times a day — they don’t seem to recognize that he is exacerbating the culture of contempt, which was already well under way before he became president. I mean, Hillary Clinton called many Americans a basket of deplorables. But it’s no question that President Trump has taken that to a new level. And the fact that they don’t connect that with the biblical verses about holding one’s tongue — and how dangerous the tongue can be, and how powerful words are, and how we have to be guarded in our speaking — they seem to have completely made a disconnect between those things. And to call that type of language ‘rough edges’ is to miss the gravity of what’s going on.”
  • Galli does not believe that pro-Trumpers are fearful.  Meghna Chakrabarti pushes back.  Galli responds by saying that the left is also fearful.  This sounds a lot like John Wilson, Galli’s former colleague.
  • Does evangelical support of Trump hurt their Christian witness?  Galli says that there is a LOT of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is.  He references the many letters he has received in response to his editorial.
  • Galli says that the word “evangelical” is now just a political world.  It has become useless.
  • Galli responds to Franklin Graham’s claim that he has “lost his mind.” He defends the idea that Christianity Today is still following Billy Graham’s founding vision.
  • Land enters the conversation and criticizes Galli for his “elitism.” He praises Donald Trump’s policies on abortion and religious liberty.  Land believes that the best way to reduce the number of abortion is to elect the right president.  I am not sure this is true.
  • Galli explains what he means by “elitism.”  He didn’t use the term in previous writings for the purpose of looking down his nose at evangelical Trump voters.  He was just stating a fact. Indeed, Galli is correct here.  Most of Trump’s evangelical support does come from the working class.
  • Land says that most Southern Baptists were not voting for Donald Trump in 2016.  They were voting against Hillary Clinton.  Land then turns the conversation again to abortion.
  • Galli says that pro-Trump evangelicals fail to “hold Trump’s feet to the fire” when he advances a “culture of contempt” with his rhetoric.  Such a culture, Galli says, is detrimental to the nation and the church.  Land responds.  Says that the “culture of contempt” did not start with Trump.  He refers to rhetoric by Obama and Hillary Clinton.  This, of course, is a logical fallacy.  Barack Obama is no longer President.  Hillary Clinton is not president.  Galli is not writing about Obama and Hillary.  He is writing about Trump.
  • An evangelical caller and mother is upset that evangelical Christians are not coming out and supporting Trump’s “bullying.”  Land responds by saying Obama and Hillary were also bullies. He seems to suggest that there is a moral equivalence between Trump and Obama/Hillary on this issue.

What is Populism?

lasch millerI have been writing about populism in light of the recent Christianity Today editorial calling for the removal of Donald Trump.  You can read my posts here and here and here and here.

What is populism?  How should we think historically about this term?  I would encourage you to listen to Episode 41 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  In this episode we talk with Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, the author of several books on populism.  Listen here.

I was also thinking about Eric Miller‘s biography of intellectual historian Christopher Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time:  A Life of Christopher LaschLasch was attracted to a particular version of populism.  Here is Miller:

The regnant American belief in “progress,” Lasch contended, far from being a misty vesitge of an older, mythical, millenarian worldview that saw history moving in an upward direction, was instead mainly the mental effect of so many decades of unending improvements in the “quality of life.”  True, these improvements  were only material in nature–which had once upon a time troubled the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  But the apologists for the new order had emerged quickly, having “mastered the tone and bluff of jocular dismissal, the unapologetically pristine defense of everyday comforts,” and such worries were allayed with impressive dispatch.  “No one could argue very long against abundance,” Lasch acidly noted.  Progress, “this tawdry dream of success,” was here to stay.  Lasch’s entirely unsparing depiction to the merest pleasures cast the reign of industrial capitalism not as the triumph of an ideal but as the effecting of a seduction, and the seduced were now sleeping to the steady rhythms of The Economy, shamelessly content, degradingly weak, confident in progress and lost in nostalgia, burning up the world to maintain their tenuous state of warmth.

Between these polar tendencies, “progressivism” and “conservatism,” lay the radical option.  Recognizing humans’ perennial need for the renewal of life, radicals did not give in to the life-denying forms of political and intellectual dependence–whether “traditional” or “progressive”–that characterized both right and left.  Rather, radicals sought through particular practices to cultivate an independence of mind and spirit that, structured within and by the community, could give a person the keenness to detect and strength to resist the political and economic powers that sought always to enthrone themselves as the necessary ends of human life.  In short, while conservatives defaulted wearily to “tradition” and liberals ran after “progress,” radicals pursued virtue–and so justice, Lasch pointed out, if at times only as a hope against hope.

In the nineteenth century this radical political sensibility came to be most fully embodies by populism, Lasch argued, but its antecedents included, along with the Puritans (and other Christian streams), the republicans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and even some species of liberal thinkers, such as Thomas Paine, who saw in incipient industrial capitalism a threat to the communal world of craftsmen and farmers they thought more desirable.  In the nineteenth century these varying populist trajectories had in the crucible of the industrial economy melded oddly but powerfully to yield a “producer ethic” that was “anticapitalist but not socialist or social democratic, at once radical, even revolutionary, and deeply conservative”; it was preserved most fully in the lives of the petty- bourgeoisie–the lower middle class.  Poised between the “fatuous optimism” of the scientific progressives and the “debilitating nostalgia” of Burkean conservatives, the populist sensibility held firmly to a way of life that is understood to be the foundation of the nation’s promise–the old understanding of the American dream.  “A whole way of life was at stake in the struggle against industrialism,” Lasch concluded, following with special appreciation the argument of populist scholar Lawrence Goodwyn.  “Producerism; a defense of endangered crafts (including the craft of farming); opposition to the new class of public creditors and to the whole machinery of modern finance; opposition to wage labor”: all of these were the battlefronts of the great populist attempt to keep alive another America, another meaning of citizenship.  But at that moment of direct confrontation at the end of the nineteenth century they had lost, steamrolled by progress–by progressives.

The victors had been led by H.L. Mencken’s “civilized minority,” and they became the new ruling class.  Their sociologists lost themselves in fruitless attempts to understand “gemeinschaft” and “gesellschaft” dynamics, typologies that only quickened their sense of disconnection from the past.  Their historians (most eminently, Hofstadter) told self-congratulating tales of their own righteous ascent, stories that only increased their distant from the “uneducated” masses.  Blinded by their confidence in their own progressive march, they misunderstood the past and misread its inhabitants, veering sharply between sentimentality on the one hand and contempt on the other, remaining convinced all the while that, whatever its pitfalls, “modernity” made possibly an undeniably superior way of life….

*Christianity Today* Editor Mark Galli Says His Critics are Ethically Naive

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Mark Galli, the outgoing editor of Christianity Today and the author of an editorial calling for Donald Trump’s removal, recently spoke with Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs of The New York Times.

Here are some highlights of the interview:

  • On the day after the editorial appeared Galli’s landline at Christianity Today “literally rang–this is not hyperbole–all day.” He took media inquires via cell phone and e-mail.
  • When asked about the criticisms of the article from Franklin Graham and Donald Trump, Galli said:  “And it did strike me as a bit ironic that they both said that it wasn’t significant or going to make any difference. It makes you immediately think that they do think it’s significant, or they wouldn’t comment on it.”
  • On other critics of his piece:  “I’ve been surprised by the ethical naïveté of the response I’m receiving to the editorial. There does seem to be widespread ignorance — that is the best word I can come up with — of the gravity of Trump’s moral failings. Some evangelicals will acknowledge he had a problem with adultery, but now they consider that a thing of the past. They bring up King David, but the difference is King David repented! Donald Trump has not done that. Some evangelicals say he is prideful, abrasive and arrogant — which are all the qualities that Christians decry — but they don’t seem to grasp how serious it is for a head of state to talk like that and it does make me wonder what’s going on there.”
  • Galli suggests that some of Trump’s closest followers are “in a sense, being discipled by him.”
  • In retirement, Galli will write on evangelicalism for the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian.

Read the entire interview here.  It is also worth noting that Galli’s critics are logically naive.

Losing Faith in Franklin

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James Seawel, a social worker and Christian counselor from Maynard, Arkansas, was once a Franklin Graham fan.  No longer.  Here is a taste of his piece at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

My critique of Rev. Franklin Graham (Christianus rectus) might appear predictable, although he excels in making himself an easy target with his wholesale approval of the president. As a Christian progressive and a frequent detractor of “Billy’s Boy,” it also might appear as if I simply enjoy throwing stones. I do not.

In our American tribal culture, many evangelical friends–my tribe–feel that challenging any evangelical leader borders on heresy. Attention, friends and neighbors! Franklin Graham is not and never will be either the church or its head. Not even the esteemed and beloved Billy Graham could’ve claimed that title, though his diplomacy and graciousness appealed to the masses.

On my spiritual journey I have learned and grown tremendously from theological and political conservatives. I also have been a lifetime fan of Billy Graham and, once upon a time, a fan of the entire Graham family.

One Christmas, as a junior at Harding University and a devoted member of the Church of Christ, I responded to a chapel challenge to stuff a shoebox full of Christmas gifts for Franklin’s Christian relief agency, Samaritan’s Purse. I made a quick Walmart run, then mailed a Nike box full of toys and chocolates to a deserving Appalachian orphan.

Some time later, after coming to grips with my conviction that Christianity was bigger than the faith group to which I belonged, I looked beyond my fundamentalist roots to the greater evangelical Christian culture. Enter Billy and Franklin Graham. They had “personal relationships” with Jesus– something I’d never been taught. I developed my own connection with the Lord when I transitioned from fundamentalism into evangelicalism and reveled in my newfound association.

Read the rest here. I think it is safe to say that Seawel is not alone.